Trial ends for ex-police chief in Bo Xilai scandal
A former police chief at the centre of China’s biggest political scandal in decades admitted attempting to defect to the United States, and did not contest charges of bribery and illegal surveillance at his trial on Tuesday, a court official said.
Wang Lijun, ex-police chief of southwestern Chongqing municipality, sought to conceal the murder of a British businessman by the wife of one of the nation’s most senior and ambitious politicians, Bo Xilai, according to an official account of the trial.
But prosecutors acknowledged that Wang’s cooperation was central to cracking the murder case and exposing leads to major crimes committed by unnamed others, indicating he will likely get a lenient sentence when the verdict is announced in about 10 days.
“The accused Wang Lijun voluntarily gave himself up after committing the crime of defection, and then gave a truthful account of the main crimes involved in his defection,” court spokesman Yang Yuquan said, referring to Wang’s dramatic flight to the US consulate in Chengdu in February.
Wang “exposed leads concerning major criminal offences by others, and played an important role in investigating and dealing with the cases concerned,” Yang said. “According to law, his punishment may be reduced.”
The charges against Wang carry sentences ranging from a lengthy jail term to the death penalty.
Foreign reporters were barred from attending the trial amid tight security around the courthouse on a busy Chengdu street, and instead were briefed by a court official at a nearby hotel.
As police chief of Chongqing, Wang was known as the strong arm of the law, energetically carrying out Bo’s crackdown on crime and gangs.
But “he conducted technical surveillance on many people many times without getting permission, or by falsifying permission,” Yang said. “This gravely jeopardizes socialist law and violated legal rights of Chinese citizens.”
Wang, shown on state television looking relaxed during the hearing, was also charged with receiving some 3.05 million yuan (US$484,000) in unspecified “money and property” in return for securing benefits for unidentified people. Yang did not give details of the gifts or from whom Wang received them.
Wang’s trial was closely watched for any evidence that Bo had ordered Wang to cover up his wife’s involvement in the murder – a sign that Bo himself could be next to face trial.
Though the official accounts of the trial did not mention Wang’s disgraced former boss Bo, the broad range of charges against Wang and the mention that he had exposed the crimes of others might mean that Bo is not off the hook.
So far, Bo has only been accused of breaching internal party discipline.
The Bo scandal has rocked Beijing, exposing rifts within the party – elements of which are strong supporters of Bo’s populist, left-leaning policies – at a time when China is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Wang, 52, lifted the lid on the murder and cover-up of a British businessman in February when he went to a US consulate and, according to sources, told envoys there about the murder that would later bring down Bo.
Within two months of Wang’s 24-hour visit to the consulate, Bo was sacked as party boss and from the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo and Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was accused of poisoning the businessman. Gu has since been given a suspended death sentence for the killing in late last year.
Wang’s trial started on Monday in Chengdu, the city where Wang staged his dramatic flight to the consulate, with an unannounced closed-door session to hear charges of defection and abuse of power, which involved states secrets, Yang said.
The trial continued behind closed doors on Tuesday in the imposing, grey stone Chengdu City Intermediate People’s Court.
Prosecutors said Wang “clearly knew that Bogu Kailai was a major suspect in a case of intentional homicide, and deliberately concealed that so she would not be prosecuted,” Yang said. Bogu is Gu’s official but rarely used surname.
However, Wang decided to later reopen the investigation.
“The defendant exposed other people’s serious crimes and played a crucial role in the investigations of relevant cases, making a major contribution,” Yang said.
Chinese experts believe Wang may receive a jail term from 15 years to life, but if the death penalty is imposed it would be commuted, as in the Gu Kailai case.
“Wang Lijun is a hero,” said a Chengdu shopkeeper who gave his name as Zhong. “He’s like heroes of the Song dynasty, fighting crime and corruption.”
Bo had been considered a strong candidate for the next top leadership body, which is expected to be unveiled at the party’s 18th congress next month. Vice President Xi Jinping is seen as all but certain to take over as party chief and inherit the challenge of trying to heal internal wounds.
Xi is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as president in March.
Follow @SCMP_News for live tweets from outside the courtroom in Chengdu.
Police stationed around the courthouse pulled tape across the entrance and blocked and rerouted traffic, in part to deter spectators or people with grievances against Wang or the government. Foreign reporters were restricted to a sidewalk across from the court entrance and were filmed by unidentified men.
The trial was the latest wrinkle in the bizarre months-long scandal that started with Wang’s flight to the consulate, where he divulged that a British businessman found dead in November had been murdered. The scandal led to the removal of Wang’s boss, senior politician Bo Xilai, from the communist leadership, the conviction of Bo’s wife for the murder and the sapping of the Communist Party leadership’s attention as it prepares to hand over power to a younger generation.
Putting Wang on trial is a next step for China’s leadership in moving past the scandal and dealing with the stickiest issue: whether to expel Bo from the party and prosecute him. Proof that the scandal’s fallout continues to dog Chinese leaders is that they have yet to announce a date for a party congress to install the new leadership, though it is expected in mid- to late October.
Worries about Wang’s renegade behaviour likely prompted Chinese leaders to order the closed hearing, said Dali Yang, director of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing.
“Wang Lijun, by walking into the US consulate, showed that he does not play by the book. It was a surprise move to Bo and to the party. He might not be as easy to control,” said Yang.
Wang’s almost certain conviction marks the downfall of a prominent, colourful police chief who often skirted the law he made a show of enforcing.
A policeman for more than two decades, Wang made a name for himself as a gang-buster in a northeastern province. There he met Bo, then a fast-rising politician who, as the son of a revolutionary veteran, had a web of political contacts. The two rode to national fame together, launching a high-profile sweep against organised crime in Chongqing, an inland megacity where Bo was named party chief.
In magazine cover stories and on television news, Wang was depicted as someone willing to tackle vested interests. Hundreds of gangsters, police and officials were prosecuted, and among the 13 people executed was the head of the city’s justice bureau. Behind the headlines, the use of torture to extract confessions and arrests to pressure businessmen to steer deals toward Bo and his allies created enemies at the highest levels.
His excesses likely would have not gotten him into trouble had he not embarrassed the ruling elite by going to the US consulate in Chengdu, near Chongqing, and divulging information the party would prefer be handled in secret. Wang’s trial is expected to be quick; the charges against the youthful looking 52-year-old each carry 10-year maximums, though the law provides for lengthier sentences for egregious violations.
In history “until relatively recently, he who lived by the sword often perished by the sword. Wang Lijun is facing an outcome along that line,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham in Britain. “He, being somebody who has a long record of not delivering justice while in a position requiring him to do so, to end up facing the same fate, I would call it ‘poetic injustice’.”